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Lawmakers draw up 1st bill for farmers
By Ren Qing (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-08-10 00:09

A bill to protect farmers' rights has hit the statute books for the first time.

The Standing Committee of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC) has started drafting legislation to guarantee farmers see real benefit from State policies and get their interests protected.

It is the first time farmers have been singled out in this way.

The NPC Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee has started the draft.

Dang Guoying, a professor with the Rural Development Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said all legislation on the rights and interests of citizens already applies to farmers and in theory, such a bill is unnecessary.

But he said the imbalance in China between urban and rural areas meant that improving the lot of farmers was vital if society was to benefit in an 'all-round way'.

There are now 30 million poor people living in rural areas.

Top Chinese leaders have pledged to make overall plans for urban and rural economic and social development, speed up urbanization, modernize agriculture, develop the rural economy and increase farmers' incomes.

But experts said the faster the pace of the ongoing urbanization process in China, the more likely farmers' rights and interests would take a back seat.

Dang said this bill was vital to the process.

"The bill will be good for maintaining stability in rural areas because farmers are better equipped with legal knowledge to protect their own interests," Dang said.

He said the legislation will also ensure favourable State policies are more effectively implemented.

Economist He Xinggang said the core aims of the current rural issue lie in two aspects. One is to protect farmers' interests in terms of agricultural production, the other is to give them equal status with urban residents during the urbanization process.

"The fact that farmers' rights and interests have not been effectively protected is the real cause of many problems," said Wang Weizhong, a 66-year-old professor with Northeast China's Jilin University and an NPC deputy, who first made a suggestion to that effect in 1999.

In a proposal to the NPC plenary session this year, Wang stressed the importance of protecting migrant farmers, who "should be treated the same as residents in such aspects as personal safety, workplace injury, salary, children' education and access to State-sponsored training".

"For decades, farmers working in cities have been suffering from things like delayed payment and fraud. Premier Wen Jiabao has even become involved helping an individual farmer get paid," Wang said.

Top legislator Wu Bangguo said lawmakers will pay more attention to improving agriculture-related legislation and enforcing these laws.

Three groups of legislators, led by three vice-chairs of the NPC Standing Committee, conducted a month-long investigation into rural affairs in 15 provinces and cities in April.

The committee reviewed three reports on the implementation of the Law on Land Management, the country's agricultural policies and financial services offered to farmers at the end of June.

Ren Dapeng, a professor with China Agricultural University, said the bill is "necessary, appropriate and timely."

"We are now discussing the scope and subjects of the law, and the household registration issue is one of the core issues," Ren said.

Ren acknowledged that rights and interests related to land, property, democracy, participation in social affairs, land requisition, medical care, education, social security, employment and other issues will be included in the new law.

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